In his first playoff game ever without Ron Artest attached at the hip, Kevin Durant kept making shots of all kinds and all distances. He scored 41 points and the Thunder needed virtually all of them in a 107-103 survival of the wildly interesting and entertaining Denver Nuggets.
But on a couple of Durant's four straight shots in the third quarter, the Nuggets had Raymond Felton guarding Durant.
Yep. I am not making this up. The Nuggets' 6-foot-1 point guard.
Later, when Denver coach George Karl commiserated about a defeat that could have gone the Nuggets' way, he talked about making adjustments. Talked about stiffening up on Durant and Russell Westbrook, too, and making this a seven-game series.
There's only one problem. If Karl already has resorted to Felton, the Nuggets already are out of options.
Durant was at his best Sunday night; 41 points on 22 shots is big-time basketball, and it didn't seem to matter whether Danilo Gallinari or Wilson Chandler or Kenyon Martin was chasing Durant. Durant was on and ready to proclaim — through his play; certainly not through his voice — the 2011 NBA playoffs his grand stage.
Durant certainly was the hero of the NBA's first playoff weekend. Sorry Dwight Howard, you've got to win your game to receive that mantle.
Upset fever grabbed the playoffs, with three underdogs winning and three more (Knickerbockers, Pacers, 76ers) scaring heavy favorites.
The Thunder seemed susceptible, too, until Durant and Russell Westbrook (31 points) rode to the rescue.
And now Karl has a serious problem. He's got no one to guard Durant and no one to guard Westbrook as his Nuggets try to beat the Thunder four times in six games over the next two weeks.
“As hard as we're playing, I think we'll be able to make some adjustments, control their other players, be a hell of a series,” Karl said.
Hell of a series? Maybe. Make adjustments? What can Karl possibly do?
Bobby Jones, Fat Lever and even Dahntay Jones, his 2010 stopper, are gone. Heck, who knew these Nuggets would miss Carmelo Anthony's defense? Carmelo would have been better than what the Nuggets tried.
Durant was so-so in the first half; he made just four of nine shots and even had an air ball. But the Nuggets fouled him five times, setting up 11 foul shots. Then Durant heated up in the second half.
“They made it tough,” Durant said. “I hit some good shots with some tough defense.”
How about rough instead of tough? The Nuggets made Durant physically work for his shots, but that's one area where he's become a much better player. He plays, and scores, through contact.
“They threw many guys at him,” Thunder coach Scotty Brooks said. “Kevin understands he has to fight through all the defenders they're throwing at him.”
Karl admitted he doesn't have many options left on manning up with Durant. Karl mentioned injured wingman Arron Afflalo, who could return for Game 2 Wednesday night.
“We got three, maybe four” defenders for Durant, Karl said. “Arron comes back, might be another.
“Westbrook, we have less bodies to go there. Get Arron healthy, he can help on the Westbrook matchup.”
So in the course of five seconds, Afflalo went from possible Durant solution to being switched to Westbrook. Of course, that wouldn't work either. If Karl is going to play small point guards — Felton and Ty Lawson — particularly together, he's got to pay the price at the other end.
Durant and Westbrook made the Nuggets pay.
Of course, the Thunder has some problems of its own. Nene' showed that his vaunted showdown with Thunder strong man Kendrick Perkins will be a statistical mismatch. Nene' had 22 points and it seemed like 42.
Perkins has to play better Wednesday night. But the odds are great that Perkins will play Nene' better than whoever gets called into service will play Durant.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.